Sunday, April 29, 2007

TV: Dud

These days, blink and you can miss a (bad) TV series. That's why we (Ava and C.I.) tend to get ticked off when Jim (it's usually Jim) jumps into our planned time saying, "You have to review ___." By the time we do, another eye sore has been quickly cancelled. Fox aired a two hour pilot (on a Sunday) and then four episodes of Drive (on Mondays) only to turn around and cancel it last week. "FINAL 2 EPISODES TO AIR THIS SUMMER STAY TUNED." That's what Fox says but we won't hold our collective breath.

We're not upset that the show's cancelled for artistic reasons -- there was nothing to see if you missed it. But we did log hours watching the bore-fest and taking notes.

What was Drive? Six hours of our life we'll never get back (that felt more like 48). The show was a mistake from the get-go and it only got worse the minute Fox decided it was a 2007 mid-season entry. The show should have never aired but blame you Water Cooler Set for creating a climate where it could. Industry bible Variety noted, "Despite decent reviews, 'Drive' quickly stalled, averaging just a 2.3 rating and 6 share among adults 18-49, and 5.6 million viewers overall." Decent reviews?

Like any industry bible, Variety's both co-dependent and an enabler. But read the nonsense from The Seattle Post-Intelligencer if you doubt Variety. The review notes that no one can act, that it's "TV sugar" and a host of other things but can't stop praising the snooze-fest. (The reviewer also wastes a great deal of time with her 'insight' that the cars reflect the characters -- the truck she can't shut up about appears in the pilot and then is dropped in the first episode.)
Time magazine found it "witty, absorbing" and cites this exchange which apparently has all that and more: "'How do you cheat at a game that has no rules?' she asks. Alex: 'I don't know! [beat] I missed the orientation'." Forget Noel Coward, that doesn't even rise to the level of Noel Gallagher.

Time did note that some characters were flat. Hmm. Entertainment Weekly also took to pimping. We'll spare you their nonsense and just note reader Tony in the comment section who sums up the crap-fest in his opening sentence: "Unbelievable and bad dialog and scene situations."

No, Variety didn't exaggerate, Drive actually got strong word from the Water Cooler Set (we could cite 15 other examples). The viewers delivered the verdict -- which is why the show was pulling in dead last Monday night.

We think the reviews go to why the show aired in the first place. The show was crap and if you examine the Water Cooler Set closely enough, you'll find caveats in their reviews (such as noting the bad acting) but they still gave it an overwhelming thumbs up. They also attempted to work in mash notes for Firefly (a really bad show) and its former leading man (who ended up starring in this). Which had us wondering, how much are the geeks influencing the Water Cooler Set?

Like the bloggers who couldn't make a radio program a hit (despite all the plugs of "I'm on it tonight!"), the geeks really can't make a show a hit. But they take to their message boards and their e-mails and create the impression that a show has 'heat.' The Water Cooler Set has no taste of their own, they're running as scared as the execs, and that probably best explains how this homage to bad Fred Silverman ever aired in the first place.

The show runner made a point to name drop Cannonball Run (which he wrongly assumes was huge box office), The Game, North by Northwest and (we kid you not) "Magnolia-on-wheels."
Actually Drive was a really bad TV movie, one that first aired in 1979, and was called Death Car on the Freeway. Like Cannonball Run, that was directed by Hal Needham. Drive took Death Car on the Freeway and cloned it several times over -- allowing multiple stock types and stereotypes to 'race for their lives' while viewers fled for their own. Mixing in another bomb (Super Train), each car had it's own personal dramas. One car was driven by a man whose teenage daughter was along for the ride but not in the know that Daddy's dying. Another car teamed up two half-brothers -- one Anglo, the other a Latino. One was on parole. Want to guess which one? There was a soldier and his girlfriend and if you heard him whine one more time about his "boys" in Iraq, you might have wondered if he was breast feeding them?

From car to car, they all shared bad melodrama and lousy acting. Chief among them, the actor that geeks and the Water Cooler Set can't shut up about: Nathan Fillion. He was like Harrison Ford, one Water Cooler Set gushed. No, he's like a lousy actor -- because he is one. He has no talent and the looks are such that he should never be cast in any role that isn't NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR or MAN IN CAFE. When the Family Ties Reunion rolls around, he could take over the role of Skippy -- and that's about as much as his talent or looks can handle.

But they raved over him and that goes to the fact that the geeks love him because he starred in Firefly (among other bombs). The same small slice of America that couldn't make Firefly a hit have tongue bathed Fillion in praise and that's probably why your dopey Water Cooler Set couldn't call out the bad acting. (Those that saw only the preview are excused because, in that, the twist hadn't taken place and some may have believed the dull, landscape artist was who Fillion's character Alex Tully was -- it's only in the first episode that viewers learned of his criminal background.) So the geeks create chatter, the Water Cooler Set doesn't want to look foolish (though they should be used to it by now) and the networks?

With no one calling crap "crap," is it any surprise Drive airs or that Fillion is made the star of another show? At this point, he may exceed Jerry Van Dyke for starring in the most failed shows. Fox should have known better. Another network, you'd just shrug. But Fox had already gone through the useless motions of attempting to build Fillion into a star. They damn well should have remembered that the process didn't take.

Originally, that role was cast with Ivan Sergei. While we doubt he could have fleshed out a non-character, he would have held viewers' attention. That's why it was all the more amazing that Fox went along with dropping Sergei to replace him with an actor who'd already crashed and burned several times over.

Drive's show runner couldn't shut up about the special effects. They were laughable. And they were few and far between. The show was liking flipping channel to channel during a week day afternoon and watching a few seconds of the CBS soap opera, a few seconds of the NBC soap opera and a few seconds of the ABC soap opera before starting back over all again. "Don't you ever move my baby's car seat!" Click. "I miss my boys in Iraq! They need me!" Click. "You knew about me? I never knew about you!" Click. "Daddy, I don't want to spend the weekend with Mommy!" Click. Over and over again, from car to car, like flipping through case studies of Freud. "Character driven!" was the cry that sold the bad melodrama to the network.

That false claim was needed not only because the special effects were so bad (and because the cars rarely raced) but also because who watches racing? Check out the box office, neither Paul Newman in his prime or Tom Cruise at the height of his popularity could turn car racing into a hit film. More recently, CBS' 'reality' show The Amazing Race has had to face the reality that some are finding it less and less amazing. And of course, there was the news from USA Today Friday (front page! so you know it's earth shattering!) that NASCAR's having it's own problems. Seth Livingstone informed scanners (the paper doesn't really have readers) that NASCAR's "TV ratings are down for the second consecutive season".

Second consecutive season. Still Fox wanted to air this laughable, bad, show. Like the Water Cooler Set, they placed too much faith in Fillion. Like the Water Cooler Set, they believed geek-hype. Fox should have known better. They should have already known that Fillion wasn't a star. They should have already known that the show runner's track record means anything he runs will most likely end in a pile up. And they should have known (before green lighting this project last fall) that ratings were down for racing, even for the most chattered race of all: NASCAR.

We don't think this is the worst thing Fox will do entertainment wise (we are so loving the gossip from the intended Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton match up). But we think this was a car crash that could have and should have been avoided. It's what you get when the Water Cooler Set, in mid-life crisis, abdicates their responsibilities and wants to be liked.
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